Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Fred's Tavern

We bought several Christmas related cartoons this year to entertain the kids, among them both Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus. I never noticed this when I was a kid, but it is pretty obvious that the Burgher Meister who bans toys in his little German village in Coming to Town is the same actor as the Heat Miser in the Year Without. No Barney Rubble, that guy, but a great Thespian nonetheless. I wish he was cast in a role less hostile to the season so he could have shown his full range as an actor.


The new year is upon us, and with New Year's eve just behind us, I thought now would be a good time to recount some of the great bars I've had the chance in prior years to frequent. First and foremost among that list would be Fred's Tavern in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, home drinking turf at one time to the Superstar himself. Fred's was the non-meat market meat market, if that makes sense. You were never really out at a bar down the Jersey shore without looking for some companionship, but Fred's was designed in principle to make that fact far less obvious. And for the Hatcher, never very successful in such endeavors, there was a value to striking out in a bar that looked like it was meant only for self-indulgent drinking. A simple square bar in a simple square room; no DJ, no bands, no waitresses, and locals as bartenders. In short, it was a dive.

Across the street physically, and a million miles away metaphorically, was Touche; and it is a credit to the tolerance for diversity of the drinking men I knew that many nights were spent split between Touche and Fred's. But you couldn't claim you were in Touche for any reason other than what was the obvious reason for all who went there, so your defeats were somehow harder to swallow. If you had asked a banker 20 years ago on a Saturday night which bar would continue in posterity, he would have seen a line outside of Touche on a Saturday night with a young and obviously affluent clientele just busting to spend money, and across the street he'd see a mixed crowd trickling in slowly, among them the Superstar in his peculiar outfit and locals with leathered skin who like like they just crawled out of a Jimmy Buffet song. He would have said Touche, and he would have been dead wrong. Today the entire block that Touche and the adjoining motel once occupied is a barren bayfront field, and Fred's lives!

Oddly enough, though I spent many more nights drinking in Fred's with guarding buddies, most of my memories of the place involve high school friends. The giant, Dusty Eggs, and their college friend Bad Richie rented a place in Sea Isle the summer after they graduated from college, but frequented Fred's from their palatial island estate (it was perhaps the lowliest summer rental I've ever seen, and that is saying something) one island north. Toward the end of summer, as these guys were on the eve of leaving the beach for their first real job, I wandered over to Fred's and found them coming out of the package store with a case for the road, heading back to Philly determined to show up hung over for their first day of work.

A year or two later, after the legend of the Superstar had spread, and my high school friends had heard the stories and seen the imitations from me, the giant and Dusty Eggs were in Fred's with me, determined to experience the Superstar. He was a late arrival that night, so much so that these guys were beginning to think I was the Superstar. Finally he came into Fred's, but now he had to live up to the billing. If you know the stress of highly recommending a movie to a friend and then watching for his reaction , I have to tell you this was ten times worse. The giant was especially aggressive, and all too obvious, in trying to draw out the Super. He knew the stories, and he thought all you needed to do as a total stranger was lead the Super to telling each one with a comment obviously designed to solicit them. Example: to get the Super to say "It's a psychological thing with the Superstar - I don't eat shark, and they don't eat me," the giant would walk up to the Super and say, apropos of nothing - "I had mahi mahi for dinner tonight." This approach only scared the Super, and he never took the bait.

I was getting quite desparate, seeing the Superstar experience go up in flames, so much so that I couldn't think of a way to salvage the evening. The giant was also getting frustrated in his efforts, when Senior Senior guard Mike Cantwell, who did not know the giant but could see what he was trying to accomplish, recommended to the giant that he buy the Super a drink. And sure enough this is all it took - before you knew it the Super was flashing the giant his prison ID card, and there was joy in Fred's.

A third trip stands out in my mind, when Dusty Eggs and I made the trip to Fred's from his home closer to Philly. At one point while at Fred's, he flat out disappeared. I went looking for him the next day to no avail. He finally turned up that afternoon - in Fred's of all places. Turns out he had stumbled out of Fred's and down to the beach, where he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. His parents came to bail him out in the middle of the night, and in a testament to the blind love a mother has for her son, her mom immediately suggested that someone must have slipped a micky in one of his drinks. Dusty Eggs grabbed onto that explanation, probably too eagerly for his dad to be convinced, and I am sure to this day his mom believes that the only rational explanation. Since that time, I think there have been at least three other micky incidents he's been tied to. When he reunited with Fred's the next day, he put $10 in the jukebox and programmed in the same Paul Abdul song for 40 straight plays. The bartender unplugged the machine after about the 3rd playing.

So if you are ever in Stone Harbor, have a drink at Fred's and breathe the same air the Superstar used to swallow down with his cheap booze, and see if you can fire up a Paula Abdul song on the box, but keep a careful eye on your drink at all times.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does everyone else get their names capitalized but The Giant doesn't? Do you think he is the e.e. cummings of boozers?

8:56 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

I think he always signs his comments in lower case, so I just followed his convention. You don't want to upset the giant.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic. But is that guy in the fifth picture down the evil Canadian twin of the Hatcher?

Evil Twin

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nah, that's a Gallagher.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Too much hair. And those teeth?

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Sawka said...

I find it hard to believe that the referenced shore dive could rival 219 Burke Avenue, Wildwood, NJ during the summer of '87. Our version of Touche was Quo Vadis, but I was always dreaming of Maloney's in Margate where I had spent too many drunken nights. So much so that I biked up to Ventnor one day (my longest non-race bike ride ever) to search out a girl I had met at Maloney's a week earlier while visiting Bob Brown. As I recall, Maloney's had their own version of The Superstar and it is fondly remembered as the bar where I received my work physical ass beating while my buddy soiled himself while running away from the melee I created.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those Margate folks, both Moloney's and Maynards have closed.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Geno said...

Well Maloney's has closed, which means Fred's probably isn't far behind, which is sad to say. The summer rental at the Jersey Shore is becoming a thing of the past, and those who do are now either families or groups of professionals in their upper 20's, since the shore real estate prices have climbed so high. Now they tear down the rentals and build million dollar condos that only get used on summer weekends. Soon will be gone the days where college kids could rent a place for the summer, get a job at the beach to pay for it, go to bars like Maloney's and Fred's for beers that were about a buck and a half, and build relationships and have memories like Hatcher's that last a lifetime.

Like Sawka, with whom I spent many a summer night at establishments like Fred's and Maloney's and witnessed said ass beating (which was not the only one I should add), I too have many fond memories, though they may be somewhat blurred or enhanced by the inebriated state in which they occurred. And I am in full agreement with Hatcher. If you ever get the chance and never have done so, by all means go to Fred's and experience a piece of Jersey Shore history that is all too quickly fading away.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Wall Stret G sent this to me in an e-mail; he can't access the site, but I'm sure he'd have no objections to this being included in the comments:

I met my wife in Fred's...my brother Pat and I developed the odd habit, acquired from some LaSalle buddies of calling it "Ed's". I believe the intention was to preemptively stipulate we would be so drunk when we left, we'd either mislabel the place or just slur out "...we were at Ed's." It is an odd but fondly remembered, tradition Pat and I shared. As for my wife, I still have the crumpled piece of paper with her number on it - seems like that piece of paper is old enough to store in the National Archives. As for the conflict between Touche and Fred's, there was one reason a self-respecting lifeguard would go to Touche - 75 cent drinks. The 75 cent happy hour lasted from 4pm or 5pm till 7pm...at which point, we'd leave - sometimes get a slice at Stone Harbor Pizza and then trek to "Ed's", all the while cheerfully calling it "Ed's" without anyone getting our rather simple personal joke. Desperate times call for desperate measures and $65 per week is not a lot of money to sustain Jersey Shore drinking, so 75 cents was very appealing. Having said that, the $2 beers (cans, not bottles) at Fred's were a good value as well. God I feel old when you talk about this stuff...

8:26 AM  
Anonymous the giant said...

The lovely Sea Isle beach palace of '89 was actually just the back half of the original post office in Sea Isle, but it had the most off-street parking of any beach house in NJ. It had only 1 bedroom (which I never slept in), a screened-in back porch (my and about 30 other peoples bedroom), a toilet with a shower curtain as a door and a kitchen. The optional shower was outside and had to be shared w/ the weekenders who lived in the front... The pay phone was at the corner across from the Wawa were I could barely afford the old "Crack 'n Snack" or Bad Ritchie's favorite slice of liverworst and roll. TV was a 13inch b&w with one station that featured Duck Tales, Super Sloppy Double Dare, then a Spanish soap opera - - made for some great mornings when I was unemployed...

Luckily we were hooked up with VIP cards for Touche, so we never had to pay a cover charge. I believe happy hours featured 50 cents drinks and some free food, then at 7 a stroll over to Fred's was a must... Later back to "Touchies" at 9 for the evening special and some eye candy, then a night capper at Fred's and cross your fingers and toes to make it back to the Palace....

Well under $7 a night got you pretty hammered and all the cheese squares you could eat..

The house was demolished years ago (I think one of those 6-plex condos is now on the site) and unfortunately I'm sure the lifestyle will be as well. The best summer I ever had....

e.e. cummings

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember nights in Fred's where I walked in with $5 at 9:30, walked out at 2:00 with enough money for two hot dogs at Wawa.

I also remember drinking ten 75 cent gin and tonics at Touche'. They were so watered down that I didn't feel a thing. I also blew a lot of money on drinks for hot chicks that then refused to give me a phone number.

I ask Dr. Hatcher the economist, in which bar did I maximize my utility for my money?

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Jim O said...

Damn, you guys had the life. The closest I got to anything like that was 5o-cent mugs of Old Style in the PWT part of Chicago's South Side (33rd & Halsted), with 2-for-1 happy hours.

But there were never any women. Women would have been nice.

8:13 AM  

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